Kevin McCloud joins bid to save Brutalist Brum landmark ahead of critical vote

The Grand Designs presenter has appeared in a video shared by architectural conservationists The Twentieth Century Society (C20) on X (formerly Twitter), backing the group’s campaign to save the 1962 Birmingham landmark, which curves along Smallbrook Queensway.

In the video, McCloud calls for the 230m-long, ‘beautifully built’ Ringway Centre to be ‘imaginatively reinvented’ instead of demolished, describing it as ‘a ribbon of craftsmanship [and] 1960s optimism’.

Comparing its plight to what befell London St Pancras Station and New York’s Grand Central Station, which ‘nearly disappeared not once, but twice in the 20th century’, McCloud adds: ‘Once gone, of course, [the Ringway Centre] can never be properly replaced.’

The video comes as Birmingham City Council is gearing up to reconsider its narrow approval in September 2023 decision for Corstorphine & Wright’s plans to demolish the six-storey building to make way for three towers up to 56 storeys high. The local authority was forced to revisit the application following a legal challenge by heritage and environmental campaigners.

Corstorphine & Wright’s hybrid application seeks full planning permission for a 48-storey apartment block plus outline permission for two further residential towers on behalf of developer CEG.

The scheme was approved following a planning committee vote of seven in favour and six against in September but later stalled after a coalition of campaigners known as Save Smallbrook claimed planning officers had misrepresented aspects of the application.

Save Smallbrook, which is led by groups including C20 and is backed by leading architectural figures including Peter St John, Níall McLaughlin, Steve Tompkins and Sara Edmonds, employed barrister Estelle Dehon KC to examine the way the decision to approve the project at Smallbrook Queensway had been made.

In a letter to Ian MacLeod, director of planning, transport and sustainability for Birmingham City Council, Dehon claimed planning officers had misled the committee over the carbon impact of the proposal and had misrepresented Historic England by incorrectly claiming it had ‘no concerns’ about the application, when it had in fact raised concerns over the preservation of the locally listed building.

According to C20, if it proceeds, the scheme will have a ‘devastating’ carbon cost of 187 million kg of CO₂.

But an amended officers’ report submitted to the council’s planning committee ahead of Thursday’s decision once again recommends demolition for approval, insisting: ‘The council is of the view that the matters raised within the [legal] letter do not amount to a legal error in the decision made.’

However, the report acknowledges a number of updates since September’s committee which will need to be considered along with the main body of the report in tomorrow’s meeting, including amendments to the planning application and several fresh objections.

Corstorphine & Wright has amended its application slightly since September to include altered floor plans from floors one to eight ‘to accurately reflect the proposed housing mix’ in the new tower.

Meanwhile, five new objections to the application raise issues including the loss of Birmingham’s post-war heritage represented by the Brutalist ‘icon’, and the inconsistency of the proposal with the city’s net-zero-by-2030 policy – questioning why housing needs cannot be met through a retrofit of the building.

Source:Corstophine & Wright

Corstorphine & Wright’s designs for Smallbrook Queensway. Birmingham (approved 28 September)

Although some councillors at September’s meeting had described the Ringway as ugly and ‘old and outdated’, the committee chair, Martin Brooks, warned councillors to be careful about making a decision based on aesthetic opinions, referring to the Birmingham: Pevsner Architectural Guide, in which the six-storey curved block is described as ‘the best piece of mid-20th-century urban design in the city’.

Voting against the application, Brooks added that CEG’s proposal ‘wasn’t good enough to warrant the damage’ it would cause.

Ahead of Thursday’s planning committee, C20 director Catherine Croft said: ‘Birmingham councillors have the chance to recognise the enormous potential of this fabulous building and to celebrate a decade when the city had a unique energy and optimism.

‘Revitalising the Ringway makes sense not only in terms of outstanding heritage, but is the only responsible option in environmental terms, too.’

An alternative scheme, Re-Imagining Smallbrook Ringway: A Counter-Proposal for Adaptive Re-use, drafted by C20, the Birmingham Modernist Society and othersenvisages the building re-used to create 450 homes of mixed sizes, with three new 20-storey towers mimicking the Rotunda building.